For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf… for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in true knowledge of God’?s mystery, that is, Christ Himself…
This was, Drake thought, a lot scarier than falling from the Space Needle. While then he could see the ground rapidly approaching, the thousands of tons of rushing water accompanying Drake’s fall gave this a particularly terrifying experience. Granted, the slope of the dam somewhat slowed him—and thank goodness he had worn his leather bomber jacket and heavy-duty jeans! He was buffeted by the water, dragged down the long concrete slope with the friction of the wall slowing him slightly in the downward rush. His stranglehold on the computer tower he had wrenched from the wall hampered his struggle to survive, but Drake knew that he could not let go of the computer: Whatever was inside that black metal box could hold the key to the strange events he and Marion had unearthed. So Drake attempted to orient himself feet first, as he had learned in the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel, and washed down the Grand Coulee Dam.
Almost abstractedly, Drake glanced to the side, and through the wall of frothing, roiling water, noticed with a sudden pang of excitement that he could see salmon flopping their way up the fish ladder. Wow! He’d never seen fish doing that before! Animals sure were amazing; salmon could find their way back to the stream they spawned in even years later, and went through torturous long trips to get back there. If I survive this, Drake promised himself, I’ll give more money to help demolish dams in Washington.
Then suddenly he hit the surface of the river below. It felt like what Drake imagined being hit by a freight train might feel like; or if a person could simultaneously be bludgeoned all over his body with sledge hammers. The air whooshed from his lungs in a burst, and Drake felt his head knock against something unyielding. Still Drake hung on to the computer, feeling its metal edges biting into his arms as the icy blackness of water rushed over him.
Continue reading. He kicked his legs, aiming for what looked like the lightest part of the water, hoping desperately for the surface. Navigating with this lump of lead in his arms was almost impossible. As lights started flashing around the edges of his vision, just when Drake thought he couldn’t hold onto this damn computer a second longer, his head burst into the precious, delicious air. He took a deep gulp of half-water, half-air and went back under again.
Flowing down the river underwater, Drake continued kicking, thanking his lucky stars he had maintained such a vigorous running regimen. The kicking he could maintain; the breath holding proved much more difficult. At times he surfaced, and gulped air greedily in the seconds before he went under again. Treading water was out; having the computer in his arms made that impossible, and the current was too strong just now. Finally, what felt like an endless eternity later, Drake washed into a backwater and bumped into the river bank. Sopping wet, exhausted, Drake dragged himself and that horrible black metal box to dry land. If he never saw another computer tower again, Drake thought, that would be too soon.
Marion and Chief looked up in surprise as Drake straggled into the lobby of the dam. He had walked three miles along the road back, carrying the computer, shivering in the wind and near to dropping with exhaustion. The back of his jacket had been abraded away, his back scraped raw.
“Oh Drake,” Marion said, barely glancing at him, “Did you notice that odd computer glitch that opened the spillways—” then she really looked at him. “What the heck have you been up to?” Marion asked, eyeing him as if he had intentionally engaged in some naughty behavior behind her back. “Jumping over the edge of the dam?”
“Yes,” Drake answered shortly, “Only I didn’t jump. And I noticed the computer glitch. I was in it.” Chief’s bushy white eyebrows rose into his thick thatch of white hair.
“You went over the dam? And survived?” Drake just looked at him blankly, too tired to explain more.
He proffered the thousand-pound computer tower in Marion’s direction. “Here,” he said. “I found this on the wall just before I went over. It broke off when the water came down, and I managed to keep hold of it. I think it may give us some clue to this mystery.”
Marion stepped forward and awkwardly accepted the burden a second before Drake dropped it. “I guess we’d better get this back to headquarters,” she said, hefting it. “Thank you for all your help, Chief. I can see that you clearly had nothing to do with this, or with the light problem in Seattle. Don’t worry. We’ll report favorably.”
Chief tactfully swallowed his skeptical comments. Surely no report including a person washing over the side of his dam could really be described as “favorable”? Still, he appreciated Mrs. O’Grady’s kindness, and said so. He showed them back out to their car, and also tactfully mentioned directions to the nearest hospital.
On the way home, Drake lay down stomach first in the back of the van, careful to avoid touching his raw back to anything. Marion had applied a field dressing that included an anesthetic cream, but anesthetics only helped so much with a cement rug-burn that went on the length of a football field and a half. An hour into the drive, Drake fell asleep briefly to the sound of Marion’s murmuring voice in the front of the car, only to be awoken by his mother’s ring tone.
Miraculously, the phone still worked. “Hi, Mom,” he said. “I’m trying to sleep.”
“It’s the middle of the day!” his mother screeched. “You should be working, you lazy boy. Don’t tell me you’re trying to sleep; I know you just don’t want to talk to your old mother. I’ve been trying to call you for the last two hours.”
“I washed over the Grand Coulee Dam, Mom,” Drake told her. “I was a little preoccupied two hours ago.”
“Don’t tell me lies,” Geraldine brushed Drake’s explanation away. “You just didn’t want to know that my new doctor told me that my hemorrhoids are throm—thrombosed hemorrhoids.”
“Sounds bad,” Drake muttered into the phone, on the edge of sleep again.
“It is bad,” his mother agreed, sounding happier than he had heard her in many weeks. “Thankfully my doctor says I don’t need a hemorrhoidectomy yet, I hear that’s really awful…” The phone slipped from Drake’s nerveless fingers as the black curtain of sleep dropped around him once again. His mother’s voice continued on for quite some time, puzzling Marion briefly as she continued their long drive back to Seattle.
“At least visiting Titan Software should be a little less exciting than your trip to the Grand Coulee Dam,” Gardner commented wryly when Drake and Marion, had finally regrouped. Jim’s explanation had haunted him for the last few days; he had spent sleepless nights imagining life with no computers. He had started to mentally catalogue everything that might go kaput if somebody stumbled upon this bug and utilized it, but finally had given it up as a hopeless cause. Now he had to explain to Drake and Marion why they had to visit Titan Software, but step lightly. If somebody had intentionally installed this code, the N.U.N.S. agents would have to be very discreet.
“I always said we should have gone t
here first,” Marion commented. “What did we get from that Dam trip? Drake nearly dead again, the manager’s assurance everything is as normal, and some waterlogged computer. Great.”
“But why was there a computer there?” Drake asked, echoing a conversation they had engaged in intermittently for hours. “I think it could crack the whole thing wide open.”
Gardner intervened. “That’s why Jake and Jim are making it their highest priority. Of course they have to dry it out first…” Opening the case up only to have a rush of water flow out onto their desks hadn’t exactly put the two computer whizzes in the best mood, but they were intrigued. Besides, Gardner had bribed them both with pop.
“Shouldn’t we wait to see what they come up with?” Drake asked. “Then we might have a better idea of what we’re looking for at this software company. Triton Software?”
“Titan,” Marion told him, “Ever heard of Cronus? Father of Zeus?”
“Who?” Drake’s totally uncomprehending look elicited laughter from Marion and Gardner.
“Greek gods?” Marion tried again. “Greek mythology, come on. Surely this was covered in your education at some point.”
“Um, no,” and, Drake’s flat reply seemed to say, why should it have? What do I need Greek myths for?
“Never mind,” sighed his long-suffering partner. “It probably doesn’t matter. Gardner, do you know who Titan Software’s parent company is?”
“Er—” Gardner clicked around with his mouse for a moment, then met Marion’s gaze with a wry smile hovering around his lips. “Janus Technologies, LLC.”
Marion grinned. “Isn’t that interesting?”
“What? Why?” Drake felt left behind again. He hated that feeling.
“Never mind, Drake,” Marion said, standing up. “We’ve got an appointment with our Ms. Pennyworth in thirty-five minutes. Let’s hope the traffic is light.”
Traffic was not light. Drake entertained himself by looking out the window and trying to count houseboats. Then they passed through the Arboretum, a remarkably undisturbed wetland that reminded Drake of a story.
“Did I ever tell you about the time when I was eleven and I fell in the muck in the wetlands in the Arboretum?”
“Um, no.” She hoped that her tone would tell Drake that she was busy not hitting the car in front of her in this stop and go traffic.
“Yeah, it was awful,” reminisced her companion, almost happily. “I was about ten or eleven. My dad, cousin, and I had gone to the University of Washington to show my cousin—who was from California and I don’t know if he’d ever seen a wetlands before—the Arboretum. On the path I found this nice stick, only I wanted to break part of it off, so I put my foot on one end and broke it. But when it broke, I fell backwards into this pool by the path. I thought I was going to die—it was all slippery and mucky, and I couldn’t seem to get to the surface. When my dad finally pulled me out, I looked like the creature from the black lagoon, all covered with mud and all these little round green plants. Huh, that was probably my first near death experience.”
“That’s great,” Marion told him repressively, slamming on the brakes. It would take them forever at this rate, and all Drake could talk about was childhood trauma stories!
When they finally arrived, fifteen minutes late, it took them another ten minutes to park and find their way to the front desk once they entered the Titan Software campus. Drake spent the whole time gawking like a country cousin in town at the manicured lawn, the gleaming matched shuttles, the glassed-in sky bridges between buildings, the tennis courts and all the really expensive cars in the parking lot. The receptionist their host from a wireless headset with a glowing blue light on the side; Drake thought she looked like an android.
Then a pleasant-looking young woman stood before them, smiling and ushering them into a conference room. “Welcome to Titan Software,” she was saying when Drake finally stopped swiveling his head to take in the marvels of this building. Then he noticed what Marion had already figured out: This was the girl he had helped with her bike!
“Hey!” He interrupted, excited, “You’re the girl with the flat tire that I helped!”
She smiled, and he remembered that smile. Sweet. Home-town-ish and wholesome. Her face, though some might have described it as plain, was clear and open, a cheerful countenance that said “Like me. Trust me.” Drake felt his heart skip several beats as she captured it in that one look.
“Yes,” she said, and Drake struggled not to swoon. Her voice was melodious in a way he hadn’t noticed before, a trained voice that drew him in and captured him totally. “Funny we should meet again, isn’t it?”
“Very,” Drake agreed, at a total loss. As he floundered, tongue tied, Marion smoothly stepped in.
“I’m Marion O’Grady,” she introduced, and indicated Drake: “And this is Phoenix Drake, my National Underground Network Security Agency partner. We’re here about a security issue some of our counterparts at N.U.N.S. discovered.”
“And I’m Emily Pennyworth—but then you already knew that.” When she smiled again, it was all Drake could do to keep from falling to his knees and asking her out right then. “Here, have a seat,” –indicating some cushy-looking chairs around a small conference table. “Tell me what you’ve found.”
Marion sat down, and discreetly motioned Drake to sit next to her. She only hoped he wouldn’t take this particular puppyish crush too far; it was already embarrassing her. Several other ones in the past had more than embarrassed her, but this wasn’t the time to think of that. They would simply have to make this a quick visit before it became too serious.
“Here’s the section of code we noticed,” Marion said, opening her briefcase and pulling out several sheets of paper, which she slid over to Emily. Emily picked them up and scanned them quickly.
“Yes, I remember this…” her brows furrowed. “At least, I remember parts of it. It’s been quite a while since we actually wrote this… Do you have any more than this here? I don’t see any comments on this section, which is odd.”
“Comments?” Marion asked alertly, pulling a pen and pad of paper from the briefcase.
“Normally all code—every line, every function—is commented. We can’t remember exactly what every little thing does, so when we write it, a good programmer comments it to explain what they’re doing.”
“So it’s telling what that section of code does?”
“That’s right,” Emily nodded. “The odd thing about this code is that it’s totally lacking in comments—and I’m very diligent about commenting. I don’t expect to remember everything I write, and I don’t expect other people to be able to guess what I’m doing either.”
“Huh, that is strange,” Drake put in, trying to sound intelligent. “You couldn’t have just forgotten to put in notes there?”
Emily’s disdainful glance almost crushed him. “Definitely not. See at the top of the page? That’s a comment I put in, saying that this section is intended to guard against malicious hackers… but this stretch of uncommented code is so long…”
“Can you tell us what you think this code would do?” Marion queried. If this Emily character tried to lead them astray now, they could have found the source of this back door in one fell swoop.
But Emily said: “I’m not exactly sure, without being able to see the definitions of these here, but it… it looks almost like somebody’s left themselves a back door into the operating system.” She sat silent for a second, processing what she
had just said. “Oh, my god,” she whispered. “A back door, and somebody could make themselves a power-user…” Her look of horror brought Drake to his feet. Surely somebody had to help this damsel in distress!
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.